So far, so good?
Stocks ended the first full week of the earnings season on a strong note Friday, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +2.47%, S&P 500 SPX, +2.37% and Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.81% to their strongest weekly gains since June. It gets more hectic in the week ahead, with 165 S&P 500 companies, including 12 Dow components, due to report results, according to FactSet, making it the busiest week of the season.
The bar for earnings was set high last year as the global economy reopened from its pandemic-induced state. “Fast forward to this year, and earnings are facing tougher comparisons on a year-over-year basis. Add in the elevated risk of a recession, still hot inflation, and an aggressive Fed tightening cycle, and it is of little surprise that the sentiment surrounding the current 3Q22 earnings season is cautious,” said Larry Adam, chief investment officer for the private client group at Raymond James, in a Friday note.
“We have reason to believe the 3Q22 earnings season will be better than feared and could become a positive catalyst for equities just as the 2Q22 results were,” he wrote.
Better-than-feared earnings were credited with helping to fuel a stock-market rally from late June to early August, with equities bouncing back sharply from what were then 2020 lows before succumbing to fresh rounds of selling that, by the end of September, took the S&P 500 to its lowest close since November 2020.
While earnings weren’t the only factor in the past week’s gains, they probably didn’t hurt.
The number of S&P 500 companies reporting positive earnings surprises and the magnitude of these earnings surprises increased over the past week, noted John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet, in a Friday note.
Even with that improvement, however, earnings beats are still running below long-term averages.
Through Friday, 20% of the companies in the S&P 500 had reported third-quarter results. Of these companies, 72% reported actual earnings per share, or EPS, above estimates, which is below the 5-year average of 77% and below the 10-year average of 73%, Butters said. In aggregate, companies are reporting earnings that are 2.3% above estimates, which is below the 5-year average of 8.7% and below the 10-year average of 6.5%.
Meanwhile, the blended-earnings growth rate, which combines actual results for companies that have reported with estimated results for companies that have yet to report, rose to 1.5% compared with 1.3% at the end of last week, but it was still below the estimated earnings growth rate at the end of the quarter at 2.8%, he said. And both the number and magnitude of positive earnings surprises are below their 5-year and 10-year averages. On a year-over-year basis, the S&P 500 is reporting its lowest earnings growth since the third quarter of 2020, according to Butters.
The blended-revenue growth rate for the third quarter was 8.5%, compared with a revenue growth rate of 8.4% last week and a revenue growth rate of 8.7% at the end of the third quarter.
Next week’s lineup accounts for over 30% of the S&P 500’s market capitalization, Adam said. And with the tech sector accounting for around 20% of the index’s earnings, reports from Visa Inc. V, +1.68%, Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOG, +0.94% GOOGL, +1.16%, Microsoft Corp. MSFT, +2.53%, Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, +3.53% and Apple Inc. AAPL, +2.71% will be closely watched.
Away from the backward-looking numbers, guidance from executives on the path ahead will be crucial against a backdrop of recession fears, Adam wrote, noting that so far guidance has remained resilient, with the net percentage of companies raising rather than lowering their outlook remaining positive.
“For example, the ‘Summer of Revenge Travel’ was known to benefit the airlines, but commentary from United UAL, +3.56%, American AAL, +1.86% and Delta Airlines DAL, +1.34% suggests demand remains strong for the months ahead and into 2023. Ultimately, the broader based and better the forward guidance, the higher the confidence in our $215 S&P 500 earnings target for 2023,” Adam said.
The soaring U.S. dollar DXY, -0.89%, which remains not far off a two-decade high set at the end of last month, also remains a concern.
“While the degree of the impact depends on the blend of costs versus sales overseas and how much of the currency risk is hedged, a stronger dollar typically impairs earnings,” Adam wrote.